Vikings knock off Packers, claim NFC North crown (Shutdown Corner)

Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary flew high and deep into the Green Bay night, giving the Packers one last chance for a miracle rally. They’d been here before, of course, knocking off the Detroit Lions with a play that was almost literally unbelievable. But this time, with more at stake, Rodgers’ pass bounced harmlessly to the near-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Vikings 20, Packers 13. Minnesota won not just the game but the NFC North championship, and with it, a home playoff game in the first round of the playoffs. This was a tale of two superstars trending in different directions. Adrian Peterson’s Vikings appeared effective, if not efficeint, while Aaron Rodgers’ Packers appeared lost, playing from behind the entire game and unable to turn good moments into points on the scoreboard. Peterson marked his comeback to the NFL after almost an entire season suspended on child abuse charges by winning the rushing title, his third overall. Peterson claimed the title even before kickoff, as his nearest competitor, Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin, was unable to catch him in the Buccaneers’ season finale. Peterson spent substantial time in the locker room with soreness in his lower back, but did finish out the game. Rodgers is one of the most prolific and talented quarterbacks in NFL history, but his career trajectory flattened this season, and that has to concern Packers fans. Certainly, his lack of quality receivers has hurt him, and Rodgers is always a dangerous force, but this is not the Aaron Rodgers of old … or even the Aaron Rodgers of earlier this year. Rodgers finished the game with 291 yards passing on 28-of-44 passing, throwing for one touchdown but surrendering a key fumble that led to a Vikings touchdown. With just over two minutes left, Rodgers also threw a season-crushing interception in the end zone to Xavier Rhodes, ending the last hope of Packers fans. It’s not like Green Bay didn’t have opportunities. Despite the fact that the Vikings pushed their way to a lead of as much as 17 points, Green Bay had several opportunities to close the gap. Start with Micah Hyde’s second-quarter interception of a ridiculous, left-handed Teddy Bridgewater pass, one of the finest interceptions of the season . On the ensuing possession, Rodgers fumbled the ball into the hands of Captain Munnerlyn, who returned it for a touchdown. Or consider kicker Mason Crosby’s impressive strip of Cordarrelle Patterson’s long runback late in the fourth quarter. The Packers, then down only a touchdown, had momentum and energy, but three plays later, Rodgers threw that back-breaking INT. With one final desperate chance in the game’s dying seconds, Rodgers reached the end zone with a final heave but couldn’t connect. Minnesota now faces Seattle at home, while Green Bay has to travel to Washington. Neither prospect is particularly appetizing for the NFC North contingent; Seattle has been one of the toughest teams in football the last few weeks, and Washington is surprisingly difficult at home. But if nothing else, the Vikings broke the Packers’ four-year hammerlock on the division championship. PODCAST: Joe Buck on 2015 in Sports: Grandstanding: A Yahoo Sports podcast Subscribe via iTunes or via RSS feed ____ Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION . Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook .

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